"There," my 8-year-old says, banging his fists on the kitchen table for emphasis. "Frog. Eaten." We high-five, and I scoop up his work and arrange it carefully in a folder. He doesn't have to return it until Thursday, but we have a ritual in our household: we eat our frog on Monday, the same day it's assigned.
He's not actually eating a frog, of course. I mean, this is the kid who once peered with great suspicion at an orange and asked me what flavor it was (Me: "It's ... it's ORANGE. It tastes like a goddamned -- um, a goshdarn orange"). The only way Picky Von Fussypants would consume a frog is if it were somehow blended and baked into a package of rainbow-dyed Goldfish crackers.
In my household, when we refer to frog-eating, we're talking about tackling school homework before it has a chance to become a Looming Burden of Entropy and Despair.
The eating-a-frog notion comes from the quote attributed to Mark Twain:
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
It's human nature to put off unpleasant tasks, right? I explained it to my son like this: "If I told you you were going to have to eat a live frog sometime tomorrow, would you want to spend your entire day dreading how that frog was going to taste, or would you want to just get it over with right away?" He agreed that he'd prefer to put it behind him as soon as possible (although to be honest, I know my kid and here's what he'd really do: argue about the frog directive for 12 solid hours without stopping to take a breath).
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Every day that a homework assignment gets put off, the more weight and dread gets accumulated until what was once a fairly simple job now feels like summiting Everest. Blindfolded. Tied to a pack of ravenous wolves. I know this from personal experience, because I had a MAJOR challenge with homework when I was a kid. Looking back, it's hard to even understand what my problem was -- for god's sake, why didn't I just do it? Why did I continually procrastinate, hide assignments, lie to my mother about how much work I had to do, and subsequently get terrible grades because I was never turning anything in?
I created so much trouble for myself over this habit, and I can still remember the full-body panic of realizing -- over and over -- that I'd have to face the repercussions of my own carelessness. (And yet it never seemed to occur to me that I could save myself a lot of drama by simply completing the work I've been given.) To this day, I'm convinced that my steadfast refusal to do homework on time (or at all) was the catalyst that led to my unhappy teen years: I was a fuckup in school, and my relationship with my mother degraded horribly as a result.
Anyway, I guess it's safe to say I have some lingering issues about homework. I really, really, really don't want my boys to fall into the same bad habits that I did. Hence: eating the frog.
Of course, as a second grader my son doesn't have a ton of homework yet. Since school started, he seems to be getting about three or four assigned pages per week. The math and spelling worksheets come home Monday, and our routine is that as soon as he gets home, I fix him a snack, then we sit down at the kitchen table and worship at the altar of Larry the Cable Guy, Patron Saint of Frog-Eating.
I didn't personally develop strong productivity and time management skills until a few years ago, when I began working as a freelancer. The key there was losing the majority of my external motivators, so maybe requiring my son to do his homework at a certain day is actually failing to teach him responsibility. Wouldn't that be JUST LIKE PARENTHOOD, to try to do the right thing and screw your kid up in the process.
Still, I'm hopeful that the pleasurable feeling being all done with homework for the entire week by 4 p.m. on Monday will linger. I hope my kids will learn that being proactive goes a hell of a long way towards being successful. I hope they'll always believe, at least a little bit, in eating their frog.
What's your approach to your kids' homework? Do you manage their time or leave them to do it when they're ready?